On Sunday, December 29, USA debuted a new show called Dare Me and it’s about to be your new TV obsession. Based on the 2012 book of the same name by Megan Abbott, Dare Me tells the tale of a smalltown high school cheerleading squad and what happens to them when the arrival of a tough new coach and a subsequent crime rock their quiet blue-collar burg.
Every week, Heavy is going to be bringing you a discussion of what changes were made from the book because the show deviates from Abbott’s novel in several big ways — though that’s not a bad thing, especially because Abbott herself is an executive producer on the show, so she has a hand in the changes.
Here’s what was different in the premiere episode, titled “Coup D’Etat.”
One thing the show is able to do really well that the book isn’t is to build worlds around the main characters that don’t hinge upon the narrator being there. The book is told from Addy Hanlon’s (Herizen Guardiola on the show) perspective, so readers only learn things about other characters as Addy learns them or thinks/talks about them.
On the show, viewers are treated to much more detail about the other characters’ lives, which goes a long way in making them more fully-realized characters. Beth (Marlo Kelly) in particular is given a home life that is only hinted at in the books, with an added twist that makes things really interesting.
You see, her dad Burt (Paul Fitzgerald) had an affair with a neighbor lady and they had a daughter together. That daughter is none other than Tacy (Alison Thornton), the young cheerleader whom the new coach tries to make the new “top girl,” aka the flyer who leads the pyramid and other stunts. That was formerly Beth’s job.
That happens in the book, with Tacy getting Beth’s job, but Tacy isn’t Beth’s half-sister in the book. Not only that but we never really meet Beth’s mom, not in any substantial way. On the show, she’s one of the most interesting supporting characters — a kept woman scorned by her husband, who now lives across the street with his new wife but who she can’t stop sleeping with. It is quite the tangled web and it goes a long way in explaining why Beth is the way she is.
The Love Interests
Along with getting a bigger glimpse into Beth’s life, we are also given a bigger glimpse in Coach Colette French’s (Willa Fitzgerald) home life. Her husband Matt (Rob Heaps on the show) in the book is just this beleaguered sad sack who wants to give her a beautiful house and all the material goods she desires. It makes it hard to have much sympathy for Coach when she starts having an affair. No, her marriage isn’t perfect, but she’s still married and her husband seems fine (if a little boring).
On the show, there’s an interesting dynamic put in place about how Matt thinks they moved to Sutton Grove because of his big new job working for Beth’s dad, but it turns out that the cheer boosters really wanted to get his wife as their new coach, so offering Matt a job was part of that deal. That wounds his fragile male ego and he takes it out on Colette, which makes it a little more understandable when she finds herself in the arms of another man.
Speaking of that other man, the show has made the Sgt. Will (Zach Roerig) relationship with Colette different as well. In the book, Sarge is a military recruiter at the local high school and he and Coach just kind of fall into bed together at one point. We are later given more information about that, but that all comes from Addy’s point of view.
On the show, the writers make it a point to let us know that Colette grew up in the area and so did Sarge. We aren’t told yet if they have a past connection, but it seems likely that they do and that makes a lot more sense in terms of why they have an affair.
What’s also interesting here is that in the book, Addy and Beth don’t catch Colette and Sarge having sex until about halfway through the novel. On the show, it happens at the end of the premiere episode. It’s a good way to bookend the episode — start with the mystery of Addy’s blood-stained hands and end with the affair — but it is a little concerning that the show is blowing all of its good reveals early.
The Stadium Project
There’s one last aspect that is entirely concocted for the show that creates more tension and that’s the stadium project. It turns out that in addition to wanting Coach French to take the cheerleading squad to regionals and then possibly state, Burt Cassidy also has his eyes on developing a new football stadium. He somehow figures if they have a top-notch cheerleading squad that that will help them get the stadium project approved.
Colette’s husband Matt is the project manager for the stadium and Burt and the cheer boosters have clearly gone all-in on Coach French. “No pressure,” they tell her, as she smartly responds, “Pressure is how diamonds get made.”
But when will this pressure cooker boil over?
Dare Me airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on USA.
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